CDC releases new data on health behaviors and experiences among high school students. Learn more about the role of schools, communities and families in helping youth establish lifelong healthy behaviors.
The adolescent years are an ideal time to develop healthy behaviors. In the United States, schools play a central role in promoting the health and safety of young people. Each day, the nation’s schools provide an opportunity for roughly 56 million students to learn about the dangers of unhealthy behaviors and practice skills to help establish lifelong healthy behaviors. Both risk and protective behaviors are often established during childhood and persist into adulthood.
YRBS Results and 10-Year Trends
CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors priority health behaviors and experiences among high school students across the country. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results help in understanding the factors that contribute to the leading causes of illness, death and disability among youth and young adults.
The YRBS Data Summary and Trends Report uses YRBS data to focus on four priority areas closely linked to HIV and STD risk including sexual behavior, high-risk substance use, violence victimization, and mental health over the past decade.
New Findings in Adolescent and School Health
Results from the 2017 YRBS show that fewer U.S. high school students are having sex and using select illicit drugs; however, far too many students remain at risk for HIV, STDs, and teen pregnancy.
The percentage of high school students who have ever had sex declined from 48 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2017. The percentage of students who had four or more sexual partners also declined from 15 percent in 2007 to 10 percent in 2017.
Unfortunately, condom use among sexually active students decreased from 62 percent in 2007 to 54 percent in 2017, presenting a serious health risk for STD infections (including HIV). This decline follows a period of increased condom use throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
While the percentage of students who reported using select illicit drugs (defined as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, inhalants, hallucinogens, or ecstasy) was down from 23 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2017, the survey also found that nearly 1 in 7 U.S. high school students reported misusing prescription opioids – a behavior that can lead to future injection drug use and increased risk for HIV.
Research shows experiences of violence and poor mental health can compound risks for STDs, including HIV. Nearly 1 in 5 students were bullied at school, and more than 1 in 10 female students and 1 in 28 male students report having been physically forced to have sex. The proportion of students who persistently felt sad or hopeless increased from 29 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2017.
Health Disparities Exist Among Students
Many high school students thrive during adolescence; however, stigma, discrimination, and other factors put some youth at an increased risk for negative health and life outcomes. The 2017 YRBS highlights health disparities that exist among students based on sex, race/ethnicity, and sexual identity.
For the second time, the 2017 YRBS provided national data on sexual minority youth (SMY). This includes students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual; are not sure of their sexual identity; or who report sexual contact with persons of the same sex. YRBS findings reveal SMY experience significantly higher levels of violence in school, bullying and sexual violence and face incredibly high risks for suicide, depression, substance use, and poor academic performance. For SMY to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported.
What YRBSS Monitors
CDC’s YRBSS is the nation’s largest surveillance system designed to monitor health behaviors and experiences among high school students throughout the United States. Every other year a representative sample of students at the national, state, and local levels complete the YRBS.
The 2017 YRBS results are now available on the YRBS Website. Available materials include —
- The MMWR Surveillance Summary – Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2017
- Updates to Youth Online, an interactive data exploration tool
- Comparisons of state or local results with national results
- Public use national data sets and technical documentation
- Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary and Trends Report (2007-2017)
To receive e-mail updates about YRBSS data and new products, subscribe at www.cdc.gov/yrbss.
What CDC Is Doing to Help Reduce the Prevalence of Health Risks among Students
Schools are critical in helping students’ gain information and skills, connect to needed services and provide an important source of connection and safety for youth which helps protect them from health risks. Families and communities also have an important role to play in making sure the nation’s youth stay healthy now and into adulthood. Families can do this by providing strong family support and staying engaged in their adolescents’ daily lives. Schools can do this by building environments that are safe and provide connectedness for all students, delivering evidence-based health education with a focus on building skills for healthy decision-making, and connecting students to necessary health services.
CDC and partners work on multiple levels to address these protections – including funding, implementing, and evaluating programs that address many of these risks and protective factors. CDC works with other federal agencies, national nongovernmental organizations, and departments of education, health, and social services to —
- Identify and monitor critical health events, youth behaviors, and related school policies and programs.
- Summarize and apply research findings to increase the effectiveness of interventions.
- Provide funding and assistance to help plan, implement, and evaluate interventions that reduce risks and promote healthy practices.
We all have a role to play in helping youth become safer, healthier adults. Families, schools, community organizations, and youth must work together to help address these health risks.